Let me preface this post by saying that I am not a pastor, priest or theologian. Nor do I claim to be. This topic has been on my mind and in my spirit for a while. I have often heard the message “Relationship, Not Religion” preached about/or brought up in casual conversation. I think it’s only right to address it.
I have been around church folk my entire life. When you’ve been around the saints for that long, you hear and see a lot! Some experiences you wish you could hit Men In Black mode and erase some of it from your memory.
I was one of those kids that were ALWAYS at church. Growing up my mother was always active in the church. Whether it was reading the announcements, running children’s church or preaching on Sunday morning, she was somewhere in the mix. My grandmother has been singing in choirs and leading praise and worship teams for like, ever. My aunt is a preacher, my other aunt is a singer, and my great grandmother pretty much ran Second Baptist Church on the west side of Lorain in her hay-day. My family has gone to church together for as long as I can remember. As my current pastor always says, “Your family is your first ministry.” My family has been living by that philosophy before we even knew we were. We built our familial relationships with the love of God as our foundation. Not religion but a relationship with first God, then each other. We extend the same love to each other as God has extending to us. And then, we take it a step further. As the love of God as our foundation, the love we share with each other as our motivator, we then extend love to the folks around us. Peers, friends, co-workers, etc. We try our best to show the love of God. I mean let’s keep it 100, we’re not perfect… but at least we try.
But I digress. This post isn’t about my family or extensive church history. It’s more about how fed up I am with church folks and the unrealistic expectations that religious folks have for people that desire to grow closer to God. I have had conversations with people that are just trying to figure things out with regards to their faith and their lifestyle. But they’re so turned off by the standards and expectations of the church that they’re completely turned off by the idea as a whole.
Now, let me say that going to church is not a prerequisite for salvation. The saying, “Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian, just like standing in a garage doesn’t make you a car” (I paraphrased the heck out of that but it’s the truth). There are some messy, hateful individuals that go to church each and every Sunday. Some are even in the pulpit preaching to the masses, but that’s another post for another time.
However, when you find a body of people that you can fellowship with in love, it is a beautiful thing. That’s more people that you can connect with, more people to encourage you, and more people that can pray for you. You just have to use your discernment on where you chose to fellowship.
Moreover, it’s really not about who’s around you. It helps, but that should not be your primary focus. What keeps me going to church when I get tired of all the religious structure is that I believe in my heart of hearts that God dwells there. Just as in the natural, when you want to be in the presence of someone, you go to their house. It’s the same in the spiritual. Church, the right church, and what church is supposed to be; is the house of God. So when I want to be in His presence, I go to His house.
But I digress, again. (Hehe)
So many times in church, especially in my early days, witnessed people would try to scare others into religion. So many times I’ve heard of God’s wrath, and not enough of God’s love. Too much regarding anger and indignation with humans and our messy ways, and not enough about His grace and mercy that he extends to us each day. Scaring someone into anything never works. Because they’re doing it out of fear and not of their own resolve or resolution. Those results are almost always temporary. There is a certain level of fear one should have for God, but it’s more of a respect thing than terror or abhorrence. At least, that’s my take on it.
As I have gotten older, I have realized that God is much more interested in having a relationship with me than me being scared into religious practices. Because if we’re being honest, all those religious practices mean absolutely nothing without a pure heart. He knows we’re going to mess up, He created us! Nothing catches him by surprise. He knew I would be an outspoken soul with a tendency to cuss folks out (still working on it). We are human, and despite what any pastor, priest, deacon, prophet or anyone else has told you, we ALL fall short. This is why I love a book called, “The Shack” by William Paul Young.
If there’s a book that can change your life, this is it. The Shack is about a man (Mack) that lost his daughter in probably the worse way. After a detailed investigation, his daughter is believed to be dead the scene of her killing was place in an old, run-down shack. Four years later, in the midst of his grieving, Mack is home alone and receives a note in the mail signed by God. The note is instructing him to return to his own personal hell, the shack where his daughter was killed. After much thought, and probably against his better judgment, he returns to said shack. There he meets the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. You might be surprised how Young portrays The Holy Trinity (I love it personally). Young does an amazing job of highlighting the relationship we should foster and build with God, instead of adapting to religious traditions and practices that many religious folks find themselves doing. I have been raised in the church my whole life, and this book has taught me so much about the God that I pray to. Young writes in such a way that anyone can understand it; unlike most religious text that you a need a dictionary, thesaurus, Google and God himself to help you translate. Young wants us to focus on having a personal, profound relationship with God, instead of harping on the “religious” understanding of God. It is an excellent, life changing novel!
See, what religion does is builds a bunch of walls and draws a lot of lines in the sand. You HAVE to be this, you CAN NOT do that. But what The Shack does, and what I think a lot of religious folks are starting to realize, is that Jesus came so that we can have LIFE and life MORE ABUNDANTLY! Not to live in fear of disappointing Him or angering Him. That’s no way to live! He wants us to love on each other, and build healthy and solid relationships with Him and each other. Now, of course, there are certain things we shouldn’t be doing (or shouldn’t want to) but man has placed so much emphasis on the rules and not enough on the RELATIONSHIP and it’s turning people away from the church. That is why I love The Shack so much. It puts into words how I’ve felt towards religion my whole life.
One of my favorite episodes of Grey’s Anatomy (if you know me personally you know I’m obsessed with this show), Meredith is telling her then one-night stand (who also happens to be her boss) that she is drawing a line in the sand. She is no longer going to entertain the possibility of a romantic relationship with him. At the end of that episode, Meredith realizes she, in fact, can not do that and by drawing a line in the sand that she might be very well blocking her own blessing. At the end of the episode, she says something that has stayed with me.
“At some point, you have to make a decision. Boundaries don’t keep other people out, they fence you in. Life is messy, that’s how we’re made. So you can waste your life drawing lines or you can live your life crossing them. But there are some lines that are way too dangerous to cross. Here’s what I know. If you’re willing to throw caution to the wind and take a chance, the view from the other side… is spectacular.”
What does an anti-gay rally do for you for or for the body of Christ? What does you writing hateful comments on someone’s Instagram post or Facebook status really solve? Why do people protest the phrase, “Black Lives Matter?” Why do people profess Christ but do things unbecoming to Him behind closed doors? And more importantly, do you really think that is what God want?
With that being said, if you are using your religion to discount, derogate, or discourage anyone, YOU ARE DOING IT WRONG. It’s not your job to block folks out with boundaries and barriers, your only job is to love them. And if you can’t do that, you need to stop beating people upside the head with the Bible and sit your behind down and read it.
Peace & light.